Kessler discusses security concerns for August rally

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- In exactly one month, there is another rally planned in Charlottesville by a group that wants to stop the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park.

Jason Kessler, who is organizing the "Unite the Right" rally, said he expects 400 people to attend from various groups around the country. He also promised that his group will avoid violence.

"I absolutely intend to have a peaceful rally," Kessler said.

He said the rally will include speeches and folk music.

But critics say the gathering will bring together white nationalists from all over the country who have violent intentions. Many of the rally participants also attended a torch-lit rally in front of the Lee statue in May.

"Do not allow this event to happen," said Mimi Arbeit, with the organization Standing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ.

Arbeit said the only way to prevent violence on Aug. 12 is for the city to revoke Kessler's permit and not allow him to hold the public gathering.

Several legal experts have said the city cannot revoke the permit without violating free speech rights. Arbeit said it's a public safety issue.

'They can say, 'You know what we learned from (Saturday's Ku Klux Klan rally)? That we can't put our people at risk like that,'" Arbeit said.

Kessler claimed that SURJ is the group that is actually putting people at risk.

'We do expect that there's going to be violence and lawlessness from the left," Kessler said.

Arbeit said, if the rally is allowed to proceed, they would not condone violence by rally protesters. But they would encourage SURJ members to show up in large numbers, the same way they did to rally against the KKK.

Arbeit believes the police should have a very different role, though. She suggested that police officers should not even show up to the Aug. 12 rally because "the police put the people in danger."

SURJ has criticized the use of force by the Charlottesville Police Department and the Virginia State Police at Saturday's rally, saying their military-style presence made people less safe, and the situation more tense.

More than 20 protesters were arrested at the rally, mostly after KKK members had left Justice Park. Officers had asked the crowd to disperse, saying they were an unlawful assembly. Police deployed tear gas after they said members of the crowd threw items at them, spit on them, and sprayed pepper gel at them.

Kessler said he is working with police to make sure things stay safe on Aug. 12. He also mentioned that he plans to use private security at the rally, but declined to give details.

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